Kenya, Kyoto, and Paris, West Virginia, Alaska, and Niagara Falls all landed on National Geographic’s list of the best places to travel to in 2024. But this year there’s a fun new twist: Experiences
Looking for exciting locations to explore this year? From diving with sharks on Australia’s Coral Coast to rafting the white rapids of West Virginia, National Geographic has some unique ideas for you with its annual Best of the World 2024 list.
The list, released first to USA TODAY on Tuesday, includes top destinations in the world and lesser-known ones. They range from Paris and Niagara Falls to the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia and archeological sites on the Spanish island of Menorca.
Unlike previous years, National Geographic is emphasizing must-do experiences at each destination, instead of just listing out locations. And in another step away from previous editions, the publication has added rankings to help readers prioritize their bucket list.
“I’m so excited about this,” said National Geographic Editor in Chief Nathan Lump at an exclusive preview in New York last week. “We’ve really extended it to be bigger than ever before. And we just think that is a really, really great way to serve our travelers who are looking for great ideas all the time.”
Lump said the list was being released on Tuesday to coincide with National Vacation Day, the last Tuesday of every January.
Millions of vacation days go waste every year, and Lump said that he hopes that this year’s list will inspire readers to to get out of their comfort zone and explore the world.
The list of the top 20 travel experiences is curated by National Geographic explorers, photographers, and editors. It’s “a celebration” of “travel’s power to transform us and our connections with one another,” the magazine said.
What are the best places to visit/experiences in 2024?
National Geographic’s top travel experiences for the year are:
- Horseback safari in Kenya
- Olympic Marathon in Paris, France
- Ski tour through UNESCO sites in Georgia
- Bear-watching at Katmai National Park, Alaska
- Live music in Kyoto, Japan
- Magdalena River Cruise in Colombia
- Road trip Route 66 in New Mexico
- Explore ancient rock art in Algeria
- Dive with sharks on Australia’s Coral Coast
- Volcano hiking in Panama
- Observe the total solar eclipse in Niagara Falls
- Trek a glacier in Chile
- Step back in time at Menorca’s archaeological sites
- Ride classic rails through the Scottish Highlands
- Indulge your taste buds in Isan, Thailand
- Wander the tea trail in Sri Lanka
- Gallery hop in Sao Paulo, Brazil
- Raft the rapids in West Virginia
- Go antiquing in the Hudson Valley, New York
- Sleep at a floating lodge on Tofino Island, British Columbia
How did National Geographic decide these places?
Putting together and consolidating a list of places is no easy feat but Amy Alipio, senior editor at National Geographic, told USA TODAY that it’s her favorite project every year.
To put together the list, Alipio explained that her team taps into their global network of experts around the world. While work on the list is an ongoing process, National Geographic sends an official call out to its global network in April, said Alipio, who has been heading the list since its inception 12 years ago.
“We asked them, ‘What places do you love? What have you seen or done lately that you were absolutely blown away by or where do you want to go next?’” she said.
This year they also asked their experts to share what exactly they would do in those locations and that made the list even more personal, Alipio said.
“We’re not just mentioning places,” said Alipio. “We’re mentioning where to go, but (also) what to do once you’re there. I think we’re really pinpointing ways people can connect and immerse themselves in a destination.”
Ranking the list
This is the first time that National Geographic has ranked it’s “Best of the World” list to give readers an insight into what is trending and timely.
“For example, like the horseback safari (in Kenya), – just because people are really into slow travel,” she said. “But also our number two experience is really timely. It’s about the Paris Olympics, which are this summer.”
“I think it really was kind of like a mixture of superlative and timeliness,” she adds.
The rankings have also been added as a response to audience feedback that they needed help prioritizing their travel plans.
“People do ask us like, ‘What’s the number one thing on this list?'” Alipio said. “And now this year, we finally can tell people, ‘Yeah, well, actually, we do have a number one that we really like.'”
What U.S. sites made National Geographic’s ‘Best of the World 2024’ list?
The following U.S. destination’s made National Geographic’s list this year: Katmai National Park in Alaska, Route 66 in New Mexico, Niagara Falls and the Hudson Valley in New York and West Virginia’s New River.
National Geographic recommends bear-watching at the Alaska national park along the Pacific Coast, which has the highest concentration of brown bears in the world. However, the publication suggests ditching the popular Brooks Camp visitor center and taking a trip through areas like Hallo Bay and Geographic Harbor. This activity is among the top five activities suggested by National Geographic.
National Geographic also recommends road-tripping on Route 66 through New Mexico, catching the total solar eclipse on April 8 at Terrapin Point in Niagara Falls State Park, antiquing in New York’s Hudson Valley and rafting through the rapids in West Virginia’s New River.
Where to see it: 2024’s total solar eclipse will pass through over a dozen states
Just go to this Alaskan national park: You don’t need to fly to Norway to view fjords.
Best places to visit in South and Central America
Colombia, Chile and Brazil in South America are among the best places to visit in 2024, while Panama is the best place to visit in Central America, according to National Geographic.
National Geographic recommends taking a cruise on Columbia’s Magdalena River, soaking in the natural beauty and culture through the colonial towns and floating villages that surround the river.
Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, is an art-lover’s paradise, and travelers can gallery-hop through the city’s numerous galleries and art exhibitions, browse renowned street art, and check out the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, which holds more than 11,000 artworks from around the world.
In Chile, National Geographic suggests trekking through Patagonia’s Northern and Southern Ice Fields glaciers before they completely succumb to rising temperatures and climate change.
If you’re into sustainable tourism, National Geographic recommends exploring Panama, which is currently promoting a government-supported community tourism network that allows travelers to select trips that “provide immersive experiences in less-visited areas of the country.”
Among the highlights is the Ruta de la Caldera, a system of five hiking trails around the extinct El Valle de Antón volcano.
Best places to visit in Africa
The number one destination on National Geographic’s list is in Africa. Going on a horseback safari in the Borana Conservancy, a 32,000-acre preserve in northern Kenya, is the top thing to do this year, says the publication.
“To journey on horseback is to break down the walls – meant to protect, but also to separate – between oneself and the natural world,” Nichole Sobecki, a photographer and lifelong equestrian, said in a statement provided by National Geographic. “Your horse is your guide, and translator, responding to the low growl of the lion, the soft scent of a herd of elephants, the cool morning breeze descending from Mount Kenya’s glacial peaks.”
The North African state of Algeria is also on National Geographic’s list, ranking at number eight. Algeria is home to Africa’s largest national park and holds one of the world’s greatest concentrations of ancient rock art, according to National Geographic. Tassili N’Ajjer National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a “geologic wonderland of sandstone pinnacles and arches surrounded by orange dunes,” says the publication.
Best places to visit in Europe / U.K.
Among National Geographic’s best places to visit in Europe and the United Kingdom in 2024 is Paris for the 2024 Summer Olympics, Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea for a taste of history and the Scottish Highlands for a luxury train trip.
While Paris is a bucket list location, National Geographic recommends traveling there for the Summer Olympics and participating in the Olympic marathon course. Twenty thousand regular runners will be allowed to run the 26.2-mile loop that links Paris and Versailles, beginning at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and passing through nine districts before finishing at Les Invalides on the banks of the Seine.
“Amateur athletes will be able to run the same route as the Olympic marathon, by night, enabling as many people as possible to follow in the footsteps of outstanding athletes,” according to the race website. “This will be an extraordinary experience, on a unique and original route, celebrating the heritage and history of the Paris region and the whole of France.”
Best places to visit in Asia
Among National Geographic’s top recommendations for Asia in 2024 are: Kyoto in Japan, Isan in Thailand, the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia – which is located in both west Asia and eastern Europe – and the newly opened Pekoe tea Trail in Sri Lanka.
“Carving a path through cloud-swathed villages and centuries-old tea estates, the new long-distance Pekoe Trail gives hikers a chance to explore Sri Lanka’s quiet central highlands,” National Geographic writes.
Best places to visit in Australia
The Coral Coast, stretching almost 700 miles along the Indian Ocean north of Perth, is one of National Geographic top recommended spots for 2024. Underwater activities include exploring the world’s largest fringing reef, Ningaloo Reef, “a stunning counterpart to the over-touristed Great Barrier Reef,” and swimming with dolphins, whale sharks, and manta rays.
Between July and October, some 40,000 humpback whales migrate down the Australian coast, giving travelers the opportunity to observe them up-close.
Interestingly, both National Geographic editors, Lump and Alipio, are looking forward to a deep-water adventure at Australia’s Coral Coast.
Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @saman_shafiq7.